“I felt powerless and nobody was listening.”

A social work student recounts how her second practice placement not only made her feel helpless and unsupported but also led to the termination of her social work course.

Picture credit: Monkey Business Images/Rex Features

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“My first placement had gone really well. I was working for a voluntary organisation in a hostel where I was helping to mediate between those in the hostel with mental health problems and their families.

“It was challenging but my supervisor was very helpful and I achieved a 66% achievement on that placement.

“However, the second placement was in a primary school in a deprived area. I was asked to help with the lunch clubs and after school clubs and drum up attendance for the parenting courses. Even though I was happy to do all of that I was struggling to see how I was going to achieve my competency units.

“When I raised this with my on-site supervisor I could tell she didn’t like it and she said that I wouldn’t be getting involved in anything more complex.

“Eventually she let me do some work with a group of older children who all had very challenging behaviours and she said I should devise more physical play activities for them. However, one of these children had already hurt themselves during physical play so I was worried about how I was going to balance the health and safety side of things. I asked if I could shadow her before taking the lead but she refused.

“In another incident I was asked by my off-site supervisor to do some direct observations with a little girl and investigate why she had said she did not like her teaching assistant. The child said the assistant sometimes pulled her hair and was hard on her. When I made my report to my supervisor she started yelling at me that it was a safeguarding concern and I should have told her straight away. I didn’t know that. I had not done safeguarding training.”

“Despite these incidences her mid-year report said I was satisfactory but when I started raising concerns that I did not know how I was going to achieve my competencies she suddenly told my tutor that she had concerns about my practice.

“We held a concerns meeting and after that I was told my placement was suspended. Not only that but my chance to work with the local authority social work team for one day a week was also suspended before it had even started.

“It went to the Practice Assessments Panel and they eventually terminated my social work course. I could not understand why. There seemed to be no reason for it other than the fact this on-site supervisor had concerns. Yet there is nothing in my log books or supervision notes where she even mentions what these concerns are.

“I felt powerless. I didn’t feel that anyone had produced an evidence-based case and they were all just taking her side. Nobody seemed to be listening to me. I felt a lot of her problems with me were personal. She would often say things like my accent was too strong.

“I’m appealing the decision and hope to hear about it soon but it has taken a huge emotional toll on both myself and my family. I know I’m not the only student in this situation.”

More information

Social work students being given unsupervised responsibility for risk and safeguarding assessments on placement

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12 Responses to “I felt powerless and nobody was listening.”

  1. Janet Smith November 6, 2013 at 4:09 pm #

    Thanks very much for this publication. I do hope that lessons will be learnt from this and other students will come forward with their experiences. The fundamental principles of human rights and social justice are paramount to social work.

    If practice educators do not incorporate these values in their practice coupled with an evidence based practice, how would student demonstrate that they have developed these strategies in their practice placement. The case study clearly demonstrate a judgmental approach, power imbalance and inequality.

    I hope the appeal will be dealt with in a fair manner.

    • David Hunter November 7, 2013 at 3:03 am #

      It sounds as if this student would potentially have some legal redress, possibly via Small Claims action or referral to an Industrial Tribunal as a case of discrimination. It might be worth contacting C.A.B. for advice about this. It is surprising how the threat of legal action sometimes encourages a more conciliatory attitude since the publicity is not usually very welcome. The Anti-bullying Campaign have a list of people who might act as advocates.

  2. Sarah November 6, 2013 at 4:54 pm #

    I hope your appeal goes your way- this is a terrible abuse of power by your on site supervisor, and no student should be left feeling humiliated and bulied like this. You are right that she was wrong to raise concerns after giving you an adequate report, and I’m surprised that the lack of written evidence on her part was not picked up on.

    The impact this must have had on your self esteem and confidence is unimaginable, but I truly hope this has not put you off being a qualified social worker. Use this as a reflective opportunity- we will all come across colleagues that we do not agree with or who put pressure on us unecessarily, and its how we deal with this that matters.

    Good luck with the appeal!

    • david muana November 6, 2013 at 6:43 pm #

      This is a clear evidence of lack of proper staff support and lack of effective site supervisor who lacks understanding of student learning needs and values of dovial eork practice.
      This is a shame to thr ptofession and all its values and beliefs. Its shows a lack of student voice and hopelessness in a difficutlt situation. I will not imagine a profession loke some worker that emphasises about anti oppressive practice in all their theoretical lectures could allow duch issue to go free with appropriate intervrntion from the school to investigate the matter properly.
      How can some poor ineffective and ignorant wicked site supervisor could damage someone career and aspiration like this.
      Hope you succeed and that someone who understand fairness in socisl work practice will use common to resolve this issue.
      Do not give up to be a social worker just because of someone inept attitude

    • Janet November 6, 2013 at 7:06 pm #

      An evidence of discriminatory and oppressive practice at a personal level of all professionals involved in the placement. Social work values incorporate anti-discriminatory and anti oppressive practice which was lacking in the placement. Sarah you are right, no student should be left feeling humiliated.

  3. Bruce November 7, 2013 at 4:12 am #

    I am appalled at such lack of duty of care towards the lady by the authorities who were supposed to be the pillars of learning, strength and support in such circumstances. You wonder why the state of social services in our community lacks the credibility and value it warrants and deserves.

    The story smirks of bullying, intimidation and an abysmal lack of care towards a student who was willing to learn to give so much back to society.

    I do hope your story touches the nerve of everyone concerned in this discipline and that it is taken up by people and organisations to restore what she has fought to make the best of and willingly has a passion for.

    I wish you every luck in your appeal and hope you are given a fair chance to be listened to and eventually achieve your dreams of being the caring social worker you aspire to be.

  4. practice educator November 7, 2013 at 11:20 am #

    I do not doubt that the student has had a bad experience but I would like to point out that there is always more than one perspective in such instances. I am concerned that responders don’t seem to recognise this and hope that this is not a reflection of their practice.

  5. Mina Decker November 7, 2013 at 12:15 pm #

    Gross disadvantage!!!! Hope all goes well for you. Its a pity none of the tutors realise how enthusiastic you were and the willingness to become a social worker. proper social work is base of good practice support and effective placement. Wake up lecturers and send students to a proper learning envirinment to achieve learning outcomes.

  6. Sharon November 7, 2013 at 1:49 pm #

    This is an appalling abuse of power and total lack of support and exemplifies the worst of poor practice. No-one should have their SW course terminated without clear evidence to support the reasons behind it and examples of how all appropriate procedures have been followed. I would question the professionalism of all those responsible for managing you. It would appear that you were not supervised adequately and were made a scapegoat without any proper investigation. I don’t usually comment on these posts but your situation is clearly on of marked injustice. Good luck with your appeal. I believe you would be an excellent SW as you clearly have insight and a lot to offer the profession. Best Wishes.

  7. Sue November 7, 2013 at 3:54 pm #

    ‘a teaching assistant pulling a childs hair’ it is common sense that this is cause for concern and does not take someone with safeguarding training to recognise this. I hope!

  8. Practice educator November 7, 2013 at 5:00 pm #

    I have grave concerns that the proper proceedure wasn’t followed in your situation. Was there any mention of a second practice educator, independent from you and the organisation that provided the placement, looking at the situation. They would have ensured that the process of providing the experiences necessary for you to demonstrate your compentencies and other essential processes were in place.
    How you have described the situation suggests that it was indeed onesided. There should have been an oppertunity to ensure that the expected outcomes, documented in your ‘joint learning agreement’ were fulfilled and if not why not.
    It all sounds very unsatisfactory and I’m not surprised that you feel disheartened, aggrieved and worried about your future.

    It would be interesting for ourselves as practice educators to hear the outcome of this.
    I hope the appeal gives you some satisfactory explanations and a firm pathway to go forward
    best wishes

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